CHARLOTTE, N.C., November 15, 2017 – World famous Impressionist artist Claude Monet would have been 178 years old when the latest anniversary of his birth was celebrated on November 14. In tribute, today’s trivia column looks at some of the little known facts about one of the world’s most prolific artists and naturalists.
Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840. He learned about oil painting after experimenting with charcoal caricatures of local figures as a teenager. Unfortunately, the artist’s father, who owned a grocery store, had little time for his son’s artistic pursuits. It was not surprising that following the death of his mother in 1857, Monet left home to live with his aunt in order to study art.
Artists at that time were discovering the ever-changing kaleidoscope of outdoor settings, which eventually resulted in a body of landscape art called en plein air.
It was this genre of painting that later became a hallmark of his artistic style.
Monet: The Gardens at Giverny
Within four years, Monet was drafted by the army where he joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria. Though his military commitment was for seven years, Monet came down with typhoid fever just a year into his tour of duty. Ironically, this often-fatal malady resulted in a turning point in art history.
The aspiring young artist’s concerned aunt paid for his military release and enrolled him in art school in Paris.
At that period of artistic history, the Académie française, France’s art establishment, dictated much of what was regarded as quality art and determined who would be allowed to exhibit under its auspices. Monet in particular, became frustrated with power wielded by the Académie because his work, as well as that of his contemporaries, was being ignored by the social elite.
Along with his fellow artists who were also intrigued with en plein air concepts, Monet had become bored with the traditional formulaic scenes of ancient Greek and Roman myths that were so popular in the Louvre. He became so frustrated, depressed and financially strapped that he notoriously jumped off a bridge into the river Seine in 1868 to protest the Académie’s stifling restrictions.
The Anonymous Society of Painters: Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne
By 1874 Monet had formed a community of equally frustrated artists included Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne among others. Known as The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers, the group bypassed the Académie in 1874 and held its own exhibition.
The groundbreaking extravaganza featured a new wave of artistic expression complete with vivid colors and seemingly spontaneous brushstrokes. In the process, one noted critic of the day, and a devotee of the Académie, chose to compare Monet’s painting “Impression Sunrise” to an unfinished sketch; an “impression.”
Monet: Father of Impressionism
While the critic is forgotten, Monet’s paintings gave birth to the term “Impressionism” the new artistic movement that lives on today.
Impressionism was all about light and shadows. A major catalyst to the 19th century Impressionist movement was the invention and improvement of the camera, which allowed photographers and artists to capture unique moments on film.
Additionally, the refinements in photography gave artists greater freedom to experiment in capturing ever-changing patterns of light and colors, especially in the region of Normandy, France. Perhaps for this reason, it was not surprising that in 1883, when he spotted Giverny from a moving train, Claude Monet moved to the tiny village in northern France until his death in 1926.
This renowned painter was more than a world-class artist, however. He was also renowned as a botanist. His gardens and lily pond at Giverny offer yet another testament to his creative genius. During his 30-plus years at Giverny, the artist adapted the upper floor of his home so that he could look out into his gardens and paint during any type of weather.
He also hired landscapers to plant an ever-changing garden suitable for each season.
Monet: The Lily Ponds
Eventually, thanks to his newly well-established financial situation, Monet diverted a small stream to feed fresh water into his lily pond, adding a Japanese footbridge to cross the pond, a locale that later became a hallmark of his work, along with his famous water lilies, which he imported from Egypt and South America.
To keep this beautiful water garden in pristine condition, Monet hired six full-time employees to maintain his pond, including one gardener whose job was to wash and dust each lily pad every morning.
Once Monet saw his lily ponds were an ideal subject for his work, he spent his life painting little else.
For the last 25 years of his life, he showcased his lilies on canvas amidst various lighting and textures. Some of these paintings were large enough to effectively become murals covering entire museum walls.
Diagnosed with cataracts in 1912, Monet did nothing to correct the problem until 1923, and was declared legally blind in 1922. Although he continued to paint by memorizing the locations of the colors on his palette, critics increasingly mocked his blurry style. He died at Giverny in 1926.
Closer to our own time, in 2015, a London art dealer was astonished to discover a previously unknown Monet pastel hidden beneath another drawing he had purchased at auction in Paris. The scene in this painting is a lighthouse and jetty in Le Havre, a port city in France where Monet had once lived as a child.
All of which goes proves that sometimes you can, indeed, get a second chance to make a first impression.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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